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Marketing the global behemoth that is Facebook: global marketing officer Antonio Lucio shares tales from the trenches

At the end of last month advertising executives strolled around Sydney’s iconic Luna Park for Advertising Week APAC, attending workshops and seminars from global industry leaders on topics ranging from mental health to the future of media. Georgina Harris attended the annual conference and heard from Facebook’s global marketing officer Antonio Lucio about diversity, regulation and rebuilding its reputation.

In a packed room overlooking Sydney Harbour, Antonio Lucio, Facebook’s global chief marketing officer, sat on stage with Channel 7’s finance and business editor Gemma Acton for one of AdWeek’s ‘Global Keynote Series’ sessions.  

Well-dressed and charismatic, Lucio – who was born in Spain, grew up in Puerto Rico and speaks fluent English, Spanish and Portuguese – was there to talk about building a timeless brand.

Matt Scheckner, global chief executive of Advertising Week, was not exaggerating in his introductory remarks when he said Lucio’s resume is second to none with roles at Procter & Gamble, RJR Foods, Kraft, Visa and Hewlett-Packard.

Lucio, who has been at Facebook for 11 months after being hand-picked by chief operations officer Sheryl Sandberg, didn’t veer away from talking about the big issues that have enveloped Facebook over the past several years. 

He was also open about his concerns about taking on the role at a time of immense challenge for the company and potentially a reputation risk for himself.

“As a regular advertiser being on the other side of the equation, I had been critical of the platform…I got a call [from Sandberg] and asked if I would consider being CMO. I said no, why would I want to do that? She asked what I meant, and the honest answer was ‘I don’t know what the CMO of Facebook does’.”

Lucio said he knew from a B2B standpoint Facebook was “one of the best marketing teams in the world”, but he had not seen any direct to consumer marketing at all other than performance-driven marketing and asked if that’s what Sandberg expected him to do.

Sandberg told him Facebook was in the middle of a challenging situation (at this time it was the Cambridge Analytica data scandal) and needed to do two things – fundamentally change the way in which it operates and be more proactive in telling its stories.

“By remaining silent, by being late, by sometimes not even reacting, we’ve allowed the world to interpret not just what we do, but who we are, and sometimes even the intentions behind the people that are making those decisions and that will need to change,” Lucio said.

There were several reasons why Lucio thought it was a good thing for him to join the company and be “part of the solution instead of sitting by and criticising”.

“As a marketer I, professionally and personally, enjoy the platforms so intuitively I believe in them…but on the vision side, despite all of its challenges—and we have them and we are going to deal with them—I fundamentally believe that in this historical moment that we are living where global democracies are being questioned, the whole concept that more people need to have more voice and the world would be better if we deal with each other on a more regular basis is a good thing.”

During his time so far at Facebook, Lucio says he has seen a fundamental commitment to change, invoking the maturing of his chief executive Mark Zuckerberg.

“The Mark I met is 35 years old, he’s no longer in his 20s. He’s more thoughtful, more wary about his legacy…he wants to make sure that all the platforms that have being built actually end up working for advertisers and for people in very meaningful ways”.

Getting the right message out

In March, Zuckerberg announced a privacy-focused vision for its messaging and social networking platform built around several principles.

Lucio said, with this, to the time Zuckerberg spent in Europe, the Christchurch Call to Action, even the US$5 billion settlement with the U.S Federal Trade Commission, [Facebook] “knew they didn’t know how to tell the story because that was a practice that it hasn’t developed over the years” so they got two outsiders on the comms side – hiring former UK Deputy Prime Minster Nick Clegg, now in the role of vice-president of global affairs, and Lucio on the marketing side.

Speaking about his role, Lucio said it had been interesting and challenging from a deeply personal point of view because since Facebook has not been a company that is used to direct consumer marketing or proactive communication, “showing the how is part of my mandate”.

“When you come into a company like Facebook, or any one going into a new company, you have to learn so many things – the business, understand it deeply, get to know the people, the culture – that takes time,” he said.

Unsurprisingly, for a man with a role with such scope, scale and size, the biggest personal challenge Lucio says he has is time management.

A matter of trust

With data and privacy breaches all over the news, the issue of how the social media giant would assure the global public it was trustworthy again was always going to be discussed, and the questioned was pushed by Acton.  

“Trust cannot be built by words alone, trust has to be rebuilt by very meaningful action,” Lucio said in response.

He said Facebook has created a group of people it “voted in to take significant actions across the four levels” – transparency, fake news, data management and privacy – to improve the responsibility angle of its plan.

The role that Lucio and his team are going to play, he explained, is to ensure that those actions are communicated to the right audiences.

“[The audiences are] the employees, our users, our advertisers, it’s the policymakers and opinion leaders in each one of the countries in which we participate. We are mapping out the right issues, the right message for each one of those audiences and ensuring that all of it is consistently presented from a corporate standpoint or a branded standpoint depend on the issue and what we need.”

Regulation

Lucio had arrived in the country a few days after the release of the final report from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), which called for 23 recommendations to force more regulation on Facebook and Google and other platforms, and to improve media competition.

Acton put it to Lucio that with the release of the ACCC report, and the era of ‘trust us’ over, how does Facebook as a global business respond to individual needs and wants of various countries and regulators around the world?

“Welcoming the role that governments play around the world in protecting their citizens, our users, is something that we believe in ­– it’s a partnership, if you will,” Lucio said.

“What we want to make sure as we’re dealing with this regulation is that we’re able to protect the interests of the people who use our platform every day, the interests of the small businesses that use our platform for advertising and building their businesses.”

He said that Facebook is active in ensuring there is multi-country agreement on this principle, mentioning the Five Eyes alliance.

“We think it’s important we are active participants in the conversation but that everyone involved in the advertising ecosystem are involved in these conversations as well. We all want data, we’re all collecting data, and things that are using in each channel should be applied to each and every one”.

Diversity

Diversity in marketing was also discussed – a value that has been one of the drivers of Lucio’s career.

He noted that research shows that when it comes to complicated tasks, diversity performs significantly better than homogeneity.

“Having a diverse team is a business imperative. We should have teams that are mirrors of the communities that we serve…I’m proud to say at Facebook I’m leading the most diverse team of marketers I’ve ever led in terms of representation of women and people from under-represented groups.”

Though it’s not all a walk in the park he admitted with a laugh, as managing diverse teams is a “pain in the neck because you have to embrace conflict as a positive thing”.

As a Kiwi sitting in the room it was noted there was little mention of the Christchurch terror attack, however, the New Zealand Herald did an exclusive interview with Lucio following his keynote session which asked about a lack of apologies following the terror attack, not removing live streaming and clear rules and regulations.

Lucio was straight to the point when asked about the big challenge on the agenda for himself and Facebook over next year.

“The challenge is the same and is going to be the same for the next five years, which is rebuilding trust and rebuilding value for each and every one of the apps. In order to do that, we are going to need to be very purposeful and consistent between all the things we agreed we are going to fix and all the things that we need to tell.”

However, with more troubling issues hitting the headlines, it will be a tough journey ahead for Facebook. Re-earning trust from users and advertisers, building its brand and implementing the much talked about fundamental changes is going to a big undertaking even with someone as capable and charming as Lucio at the helm. 

Georgina Harris travelled to Sydney courtesy of Facebook.

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